So, today a lady comes into the shelter and wants to adopt a cat. She seemed like an OK person, I mean, she wasn’t “from the city”, if you know what I mean.  She filled out the forms and said all the right things so I decided she could go back to adopt a cat.  When I asked her which one she wanted, she said, “The black one.”

witch and catI was like, whoa, hold on there. We don’t adopt out black cats this close to Halloween.  You know, people do crazy things out there.  After all, this is 1985.  She was all, “Do I look like a Satanist?” and I was all, lady, I don’t know you from Adam and why are you so interested in a black cat?  She gets in my face with this whole, “I just want to save a cat, you kill them all anyway don’t you?”

Let me tell you, I let her have it. I told her that we save cats.  We save them from the streets and from wackos like her that want to sacrifice them, like someone I know told me they saw on 20/20 once with those kids in a basement, or something.  I said that we don’t kill cats, we euthanize cats (I didn’t mention that last month we “euthanized” 85% of the cats we “saved” from people like her) and that those cats were better dead than hit by cars or tortured and how does she know anyway, did she ever have to spend the day killing a hundred cats and crying like I do and the people who work here do?

Then, you wouldn’t believe it, the bitch has the nerve to cuss me out and walk out the door!  It gets better.  The guy who was there the whole time this was going on muttering and shuffling about how long all this took- it only took an hour to do the pre-screening- and whining about the staff smoking like he was the Queen of England and asks if he could look at a dog.  Can you believe that?  We were closing in half an hour! He starts saying that since he wants to adopt the dog, maybe we could stay open a little longer.  Stay open!?  Would he ask Sears to stay open? So then he asks if we can hold him till tomorrow and I’m, like, no way, it’s first come, first served.  So then he flips me off and slams out the door.

That’s OK, there was something wrong with that guy. I’m not sure what he was, Puerto Rican, Arab, or what, but he wasn’t strictly white.  I’d have had to run a records check on him to make sure he owned his house like he claimed and tomorrow is Saturday anyway so the Courthouse would be closed.

Speaking of weirdos, did you hear that there is a man managing the shelter next county over and he’s black?  I don’t know what that board is thinking.  I hear he sells pit bulls out the back to dog fighters, but keep that between you and me.

I don’t know what’s wrong with all these people. They make us take all these animals from them and then won’t do the simplest things we ask of them to adopt pets out, like bring in a copy of their mortgage and rental agreement and let us call the landlord just to make sure it’s the real lease paperwork , come to the office during our convenient hours between 11:00 AM and 3:45 PM weekdays, not adopt around Christmas, bring in vet records for every pet they ever owned, and bring the entire family in- I don’t care your oldest is 20 and at Harvard except on holidays, if she’s in the house, she has to meet the dog, and don’t go throwing around that you’re rich to impress me, just because I never went to college doesn’t make me less educated than you!  That’s not too much to ask to save these lives so they don’t have to be killed- I mean, euthanized.

What was I talking about? Oh, right…No, we don’t adopt black cats at Halloween!

Replies the Year 2015 to the Year 1985: OK, OK, I understand…just settle down…there you go.  Do you want a Fresca and for me to put on the Rockford Files?

[Whispered aside to the Year 2014]: Don’t even bother, it’ll just wind 1985 up for no good reason.  The last time I told 1985 that we had been adopting out black cats at Halloween and pets as Christmas presents for years, even to blacks, Hispanics, renters, and college students, and that euthanasia and shelter relinquishment were plummeting to an all-time low, and that shelters across the country were routinely saving 85% of animals instead killing 85% of them, 1985 started coughing so hard I thought it was going to have a heart attack.  Better leave 1985 be.

Replies the Year 2015 to the Year 1985: You comfy, 1985?  Good.  I’ll just be over here saving animals based on facts, not stereotypes and anecdotes.  What?  Nothing, I didn’t say anything.  Just drink your soda and tell me what shenanigans Rockfish gets himself into this time…

*All years appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real years, past or present, is purely coincidental.

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Friction

October 21st, 2015 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

In the shelter world, “open access” shelters tend to complain that “no kill” shelters make it too hard to give up a pet.  “No kill” shelters tend to say “open access” shelters make it too easy to give up a pet.  The general public usually faults both for making it too hard to adopt a pet.

friction

This link has nothing to do with the post. But it is an awesome song of the same title by the legendary band, Television.

One thing is certain: all shelters employ hurdles, intentional or not, in front of certain aspects of their operations.  In some cases, it’s flat out barriers.  If this is not your personally owned animal, you cannot surrender the pet.  If you are a college student, you cannot adopt this pet.  Regardless of the logic behind them, these are clear barriers that utterly block the process.  This is the equivalent of stopping your car by running into a wall.

Most of the hurdles in place, however, can be driven over.  They aren’t barriers as much as they are speed bumps or friction in the process.  It doesn’t stop the process, but it slows it down, or reduces the quantity of the transaction.  Process friction is the equivalent of hitting the breaks to slow down or stop your car.  The presence- or absence- of this procedural friction has a major impact on things such as the number and type of animals accepted at a shelter, the number of animals adopted, the success rate by breed or species, and even the perception of the public.

Where, how, and when we apply friction can have intended consequences, such as ensuring pets get good homes, or it can have unintended consequences, such as creating a structural imbalance between intake and adoption.  When the latter is the case, we usually tell ourselves we meant to apply that friction or that the friction applied is out of our control- or, “their fault”.  This is especially a problem when friction is applied heavily at one point in the process and not applied at all in other parts of the process.

An example of equal friction might include a shelter which has extremely stringent adoption standards.  Home visits, proof of home ownership, entire family must be present for adoptions, waiting periods, etc.  This will still permit adoptions, but will also clearly slow down the process and diminish the quantity.  If this shelter applies equally high levels of friction at the intake of animals, such as screening to accept only the most adoptable animals and only accepting as many animals in as it adopts out, it reaches a “friction stasis”.  This is pretty much the definition of many “no kill” and “limited admission” shelters.

When a friction imbalance happens, animals tend to pay the price.  A no kill shelter which has high adoption process friction but less or no intake friction quickly becomes overcrowded.  That is why effective limited admission shelters, as well as breed rescues, must understand their organizational capacity and work within those bounds.  To do otherwise renders them hoarders.

This is also what occurs in open door shelters which euthanize animals as required for space, or for health or behavioral reasons.  As long as they accept anything that comes in, when friction is slight or non-existent at intake, they will generally face some level of euthanasia as an inevitability.  That’s because unless they are just dumping animals out the back door as fast as they come in the front and have absolutely no adoption standards, they will almost certainly get more animals in than they send out due to back end process friction.  Even when no adoption process friction is applied, human nature provides its own friction in the form of adopter preference.  This is made even more certain if they have a limited admission shelter in the area, since that shelter has “frictioned out” at least some less adoptable animals by refusing to accept them and they end up at the open admission shelter.

But is it always out of the open admission shelter’s power to do anything about this frictional imbalance?  Is euthanasia inevitable in all, most, some cases?  Absolutely not.  It is vital that open admission shelters take friction imbalance into account to ensure that they are not greasing the wheels in one area while applying the breaks in another, when the imbalance leads to  more inflow than outflow.

Open admission shelters often make surrendering a pet the easiest option for the public.  The first, easiest, and most readily available option offered to the public is generally the option the take.  If this option is coupled by high friction policies on the outflow end, the adoption end, such as high adoption fees, overly stringent or lengthy adoption process, policies which disproportionately impact certain populations (read: home ownership checks for people of color that are waived for white folks), waiting periods for sterilization, cut and dry rules like fenced yards, etc., the result is a bottle neck in the process.  Incoming animals pile up behind this bottleneck.  Space runs out or behavior and health declines.  Animals are euthanized.

Is it the shelter’s fault people are giving up their pets?  No.  Except when it is.

When I started at Berks Humane, we had a friction imbalance.  We provided full animal control services so we didn’t just accept a stray animal, we would go out and pick it up, 24 hours a day.  We would take any animal, seven days a week, presented to us over the counter, as long as someone had ID.  That requirement would seem like some friction.  Except we also had an overnight “drop room” intended for strays brought in by police.  But it was open to the public, too, and at least half the animals dropped there had no information and were really just owner surrendered pets.  We didn’t just have no friction, we lubricated the process to make the easiest choice giving up a pet to a place that killed at least half the dogs and three quarters of the cats entering it.

We made matter worse on the adoption end by having restrictive adoption policies.  Entire families must be present for all adoptions, limited adoption hours, vet references, renter barriers, home ownership checks, inflexible adoption fees, and unpleasant staff.  And if you were brown, the grit on the sandpaper applied to you was very much coarser.

Starting on the outflow side to minimize friction was easy in many cases.  Eliminating informal Jim Crow adoption policies and ushering out staff who seemed to take particular glee in applying them was an immediate response.  Improving access to adoption services, adoption hours, streamlining the process, eliminating silly rules (does your senior in high school really need to come in and meet the cat you want to adopt?), decreasing the adoption fees for older and harder to place animals and eliminating it for animals with challenges or special needs or during high euthanasia seasons, and sterilizing animals prior to adoption all made a difference in our ability to decrease friction on the outgoing side and helped balance our live/dead equation.

However, we also put equal thought to how we could add friction on the intake side.  While we were still doing animal control we told out contracted municipalities we would only pick up stray during the day, not 24 hours a day, unless it was to directly assist a police officer.  As a result, we had a decrease in the number of strays entering, not because they were taken elsewhere or dumped back on the street, but because those extra few hours of being held meant the owner was able to reclaim their pet directly from the finder in many cases.  Slight friction, slight decrease in intake, minimal inconvenience.

We closed our overnight drop cage room.  That had a substantial impact on intake.  People could no longer dump their pets there because they were too embarrassed to bring them in the building.  Surrendered animals could be adopted sooner because they didn’t have to be held a strays for two or three days simply because their owner left them with no paperwork.  People with actual strays still had to hold them until we opened, but we had already established this would allow some owners to reclaim the pet before it came in.

We added more friction at intake by simply offering to help people and asking them in more detail why they were bringing in a pet.  Lost your job and can’t afford it?  What if we gave you free food?  Later, when we opened our vet practice, we’d offer vet care for injured or sick animals.  That may not seem like friction, but it is.  We placed something between the owner and us just taking in the animal, no questions asked.  We added support and services which increased friction for intake but decreased friction for keeping their pet.

Because of small things like these, and bigger ones, eventually our bottle neck shifted to the point where we had to seek out animals to enter our shelter for adoption from other shelters and we even decreased some of our new friction because we were adopting faster than we were taking in animals.  In fact, please stay tuned because we will soon be announcing a major decrease in friction at Humane Pennsylvania.

We all choose to insert friction into our work and that is why it is no more reasonable for open admission shelters like ours to say it’s out of our control than it is reasonable for restricted admission shelters to pretend they are not passing the burden on to open admission shelters by way of the extremely high levels of friction they impose.  It is up to all of us, regardless of our sheltering model, to own up to the barriers and friction we impose.  We need to more wisely apply it and more judiciously remove it, as appropriate and as effective to save lives.

No animal should face death because the easiest option available is entering a shelter or because adoption is made harder than it needs to be.

 

*A credit due note:  I first heard the term friction used at a cat workshop at HSUS EXPO and I don’t recall the name of the organization or the woman using the term.  But it’s a great one and I stole it from her.  If she knows who she is, I’d love to credit her!

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I visit a lot of animal shelters.  If there is one problem I see more than any other at open admission shelters under significant stress, it’s operating beyond their capacity to house animals.  Sometimes it’s more animals than the existing staff can handle.  Sometimes it’s more than their facility was built for.  Usually it’s both.

Lemon-the-farm-hand-dog-helps-out-by-carrying-a-bucket-of-wate-517211When I ask if they know they are overcrowded, they say, yes, of course they do.  When I ask why, they say it’s because they are saving lives by packing animals into every available cage, kennel, crate, and spare room.  When I tell them that, at best, they are doing exactly nothing to save animals, and at worst, they are killing more animals and adopting fewer as a result of overcrowding, they usually look at me like I’m insane.

Only, I’m not.  They are the ones suffering from a delusion which is increasingly common in shelters reacting to demands from the community to save more and more animals.  That delusion is the idea that keeping more animals means you are saving more animals.

Let me pose a logic/math problem for you:  Two people each have a bucket they have to carry around every day without spilling a drop.  One is a one gallon bucket and one is a five gallon bucket.  Both are full to the very top, to the point of over flowing.  Each day, one cup of water is emptied out of each bucket and two cups of water are poured into each bucket.

How much water overflows from each bucket? Exactly one cup.  Does it matter which one is one gallon and which one is five gallons?  No, when a bucket is full, it overflows at the same rate.

Now, which one of these buckets is harder to carry, and which one is most likely to have water sloshing out of it because it’s just so damn heavy?  It’s pretty obvious that the one gallon bucket is easier to carry, and carry carefully, without unintended loss, than the five gallon bucket.

This seems like a pretty easy concept.  Now, let’s say that two shelters are housing animals.  One houses 100 animals, the other houses 500 animals.  They each have exactly the same adoption rate and euthanasia rate (we are talking about open admission shelters which operate at full capacity).  Each day, three animals leave the shelter because of adoption.  Six animals enter the shelter as strays or owner surrenders.

How many animals will each euthanize because of space?  Exactly three.  Three went out, six went in.  Just like one cup went out and two cups went in.  It doesn’t matter than one had 500 and one had 100.  Their turnover rate is the same.  Their euthanasia rate is the same.

So, what is different?  To start, one had to “carry” an extra 400 animals.  They had to clean up after, provide medical treatment to, feed, love, care for, and walk all those extra animals.  That’s a mighty heavy bucket.  In sheltering, the unintended sloshing overflow isn’t water, it is illness, behavioral problems, and aggression, induced by stress and overcrowding.  It’s unnecessary death.

What’s the other difference?  The shelter with 500 animals can probably claim that they didn’t kill any “healthy or adoptable” animals “just for space”.  That’s because it’s a certainty they can find a really sick cat or a dog that tried to bite, and they can wait for the new, healthy animals to stay long enough to get sick, behave badly, or become aggressive.

The fact is, if the shelter with 500 animals took its holding number down to 100, they could spend five times as much time on each animal.  Five times the medical care, five times the training, five times the love and adoption efforts, with the same staff and resources they already had.  Their animals would almost certainly be healthier and happier, and present for adoption better and have a better chance at adoption and maybe get adopted faster.  At worst, there is zero change in adoption, euthanasia, and intake rates.  These things have little or nothing to do with carrying capacity, but they have everything to do with quality of care.

When I explain this I usually employ a prop.  A bucket, sugar packets, pennies, anything to show that this works every time, in every numerical configuration, 100 animals, 500 animals, 167 animals, if you are at maximum.  Unlike the “no kill equation”, this is math that has nothing to do with human nature, or whether people want to adopt pit bulls, or old dogs, or mangy cats.  This equation counts on everyone being just as good or as bad as people already are.

Some will say, and this is what almost everyone says, “But if I can make space, I don’t need to kill those three animals.”  Correct, and this is where the slippery slope into hauling around heavy buckets comes in.

Let’s say that you have one hundred animals in your shelter and you decide if you put two dogs and two cats in each cage and run you can “save” two hundred animals.  Let’s keep the same outflow of three and intake of six, leaving three animals to face death.  And you put those three animals in double up cages that day.  And the next day, and each day for one month- or 33 days more exactly.  After just one month you have saved exactly one hundred additional animals.  And on day 34 you are out of space in your doubled up cages and three animals go out, six come in and you have to kill three animals.

What if you triple up?  OK, one more month.  And now you are caring for two hundred, three hundred, more, animals, with the same resources you had been using to care for one hundred animals.  You are increasing your burden and negatively impacting everyone one of those animals and your employees and volunteers and adopters.

This is the point where the “no kill” readers out there will say, “The secret is to get more adopted, keep more from coming in the shelter.”  Yes!  Point up that mountain to the pinnacle you believe they can attain, the no kill goal of 90% or even 100% save rates.  I actually agree.  Most of these shelters also have amazingly outdated policies which should be brought into the modern era and they should make the trek up that hill.

But how the hell do they do it carrying such a heavy load?  They can’t.  That’s why shelters that are overflowing should bring their carrying capacity down as swiftly as possible.  Whether they want to make the journey up the mountain or just want to keep doing things as they are, having fewer animals in their shelter will allow for happier, healthier animals.  Happy and healthier animals get adopted faster.  Maybe instead of three going out, four go out.  And the euthanasia rate that day goes down that day by 33%.

It requires discipline, it requires understanding the underlying principal, and it requires a commitment to the concept.  What it doesn’t require is one day killing off half your animals.  First, it doesn’t have to be half.  It could start with fifty, ten, five, one fewer.  But it has to stay at that reduced level.  It can be done in January, when the population is low on average.  It could be done on a national adoption weekend so when you clear out half your shelter, you keep it there.  You can ask other shelters and rescues to help, all at once, all one week, to get the numbers down.

Once you catch your breath from carrying that weight, then you can start working on getting more animals out the right way, fewer animals in.  Then the outside can complain if you don’t.  But if you have healthier animals which are getting better care and getting a better chance at adoption, maybe there won‘t be so much to for those “crazies” to complain about.  Even if they are utterly ignorant of the reality of sheltering, and most people are, you will know that you are actually doing the best for your animals, not doing less than the best because you’re trying to do the most.

We’ve done it.  We’ve seen others do it.  We know it works.  Not all math is a trick.  Sometimes the weight you bear is the weight you choose to carry.

 

(If you would like assistance in making a transition in your shelter or establishing carrying capacity levels for your facility and available resources, contact Animal Welfare Management Services.  They can help.)

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